Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER XVI. Master of the Elements.
The gondola rocked wildly; the lightning flashed almost continuously; the rain pounded the windows like a hostile army. Nothing I did could restore any control of the airship; the tempest was in command.
“Have you any suggestions”?” I shouted over the constant roar of rain, wind, and thunder.
“Unfortunately,” said Weyland, “all my best ideas involved avoiding the hurricane before we reached it.”
“I can’t control the ship,” I said.
“And we can’t control the weather,” Weyland added.
“In my tribe,” said Tluxapeketl, “we have a traditional rain dance that is always effective.”
“We don’t need more rain,” Weyland pointed out.
“Perhaps she could dance it backwards,” I suggested.
“It sometimes needs two or three days to take effect,” Tluxapeketl told us. “But it invariably rains within two or three days. In fact, it is so completely effective that we invariably get rain whether we do the dance or not.”
“That may be because you live in a rain forest,” I said.
“Well, I had thought of that, but I did not wish to be the first of my tribe to say it.”
Weyland began, “If only——”
A mighty gust turned the gondola almost on its side for a moment and flung us against the wall—all but Kitty, who maintained his position by digging into the floor with his substantial claws.
We righted ourselves, and Weyland began again:
“If only we had a butterfly!”
“Darkly amusing, isn’t it?” said Weyland. “We spent all that time in the Amazonian jungle surrounded by butterflies, but I never thought to capture one in case we needed it later.”
“When I was a girl,” said Tluxapeketl, “I used to amuse myself by folding butterflies out of leaves.”
Weyland’s face lit up with hope. “Could you do it now? From paper, perhaps?”
“It would be child’s play, so to speak,” she replied.
“Peevish! Find me some paper! As much as the lady needs, and a sheet for me as well! Hurry—it’s our only chance!”
I looked around the room. A desk built into the wall on the other side seemed promising. I made my way across the wildly bucking floor: I had to resort to crawling, but I got to the desk at last. In the first drawer I opened I found a stack of blank paper with a printed letterhead:
Air Navy of
Kun the Devil King
P. O. Box 39
Andorra la Vella
“Found it!” I declared. I started to crawl back, but the gondola was flung sideways again, and we all ended up against the same wall, me with a handful of paper, Tluxapeketl with a lapful of tiger, whom she gently stroked as the gondola righted itself.
”Here’s the paper,” I said.
“Splendid work, Peevish,” said Weyland. He took a sheet and immediately began scribbling on it with his mechanical pencil. Tluxapeketl, meanwhile, took a sheet for herself and began carefully tearing and folding. With the violent movement of the gondola, it took her a few minutes, but she eventually had a butterfly almost indistinguishable from the real thing, if there were a species of butterfly that grew the letters NDORR on its left wing.
“Is this what you needed?” she asked.
Weyland looked up from his paper, which he had covered with differential equations. “Perfect,” he declared. “Peevish, we need to get that window open.”
“Open?” I asked dubiously.
“It is essential,” Weyland insisted. “Miss Tluxapeketl, the butterfly, please.”
With difficulty, I managed to stand, and—with more difficulty—to push the window open. Wind and rain poured in through the opening.
“Don’t breathe,” said Weyland.
He manipulated the wings of the butterfly so that it appeared to be fluttering in a very natural manner.
Suddenly the wind died, the rain stopped, the thunder faded away, the clouds parted, and the sun shone in through the open window.
I was stunned for a moment, but Weyland appeared to be unsurprised. “Thank you, Miss Tluxapeketl,” he said. “You fold an excellent butterfly.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“It is well known that the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings can have a profound effect on the weather,” he explained, “thanks to the principle of Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions. It was merely a matter of calculating those conditions with sufficient accuracy. I admit to being a little rusty—otherwise I should not have taken so long—but the important thing is that we succeeded.”
“You see, Kitty?” said Tluxapeketl, stroking the purring tiger under the chin. “I told you Mr. Weyland would think of something.”
“Where do you suppose we are?” I asked.
Weyland looked out the window. “We’re coming to the coast of Europe,” he said. “Amazing, really. The hurricane propelled us all the way across the Atlantic. I’d say we’re approaching the border of France and Spain.”
“How can you tell?”
He pointed to the view out the window. “Do you see that dashed line along the mountains, with the violet wash on the northern side of it and the orange wash on the other? That is the border marking installed by the European Borders Commission, an international body established to make sure national borders are visible from airships, autogyros, aeroplanes, and other aerial vehicles that begin with A. The commission has adopted the color standards promulgated by your own National Geographic Society.”
“Then we’re not too far from Andorra,” I remarked.
“True,” said Weyland. “We may be able to prepare a little surprise for the Devil King.”
At that point we passed into a cumulus cloud, and we were surrounded by blank whiteness. We drifted along that way for some time, as if the world had been erased with a big rubber.
“Quite a difference from the hurricane clouds,” I said. “It’s rather calm and peaceful in here. A very pleasant way to travel.”
“It is,” said Weyland. “But we must not forget that a blanket of cloud may conceal unknown dangers.”
“Such as what?”
“That, for example.”
The cloud had parted just in time for me to see a huge snow-clad peak looming in front of me.
“An Alp!” I exclaimed, running for the controls.
“Actually, a Pyrenee, I believe,” Weyland responded.
I had no chance to reach the wheel: the airship smashed into a huge snowbank on the side of the mountain, toppling us all and setting the gondola at a rakish angle.
We were fortunately not injured, but the airship was grounded. A jagged rock had ripped a huge gash in the gas bag, and all the goesuppium had escaped.
“We are here?” Tluxapeketl asked.
“A bit of an unexpected landing,” said Weyland, “but we seem to be all right. We’re somewhere high up in the Pyrenees, and we shall have to find our way to Andorra from here. Come on: might as well get started.”
We pushed open the door and found ourselves on a steep slope covered with snow.
“What is the crunchy white coating on the ground?” asked Tluxapeketl.
There was a curious low cracking sound somewhere in the distance; at the time I thought nothing of it.
“I suppose you’ve never seen snow before,” I said. “It’s quite common where we come from. It’s a kind of frozen water.”
There was another cracking sound, and a short rumble.
“It is very cold,” Tluxapeketl said. “No wonder pink men wear so many clothes. I am a little chilly.”
I insisted that she take my jacket, which she accepted this time. Now I was a little chilly,. But I certainly was not willing to let Tluxapeketl face the snow nearly as nature had made her.
“Is snow dangerous?” she asked.
I laughed. “No—it’s just fluffy solid water. It’s not dangerous at all.”
At that moment there was a much louder crack, and then a distant rumbling roar. I looked up toward the sound and saw that a tremendous avalanche had broken from the side of the mountain near the peak and was pouring down the slope straight toward us.
“Usually,” I corrected myself. “Usually snow isn’t dangerous at all.”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode: